new rider of the purple sage

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I like to be in San Juan

Thanks to some incredibly wonderful friends of ours, Leslie and I were treated to a mini vacation up in the San Juan Islands of Washington this past week. To say that the trip exceeded our wildest expectations would be making a vast understatement.

If you have never been to San Juan Island, imagine a locale with no traffic lights, franchise stores or litter anywhere.

Where people are generally well mannered and considerate.  With the most gorgeous and pristine nature and scenery imaginable.

bull kelp

A place that harbors no poisonous snakes or scary predators. But does have flying squirrels. Pretty astounding really.

San Juan is made up of two principal centers, Roche and Friday Harbor. Sydney Island, Victoria and the Olympics loom in the distance.

Roche Harbor
The island lies in the rain shadow of the Olympic Range and consequently stays much more temperate and drier than some of the other places we have visited nearby in the region.

It was a whirlwind trip, far too short but we maxed out the fun meters every day. I am tired and have work piled up so pardon me, but I will try to keep this relatively concise and sort of add as I go if I have time this week.

Our friends live on the Haro Strait, on the westward side of the island. The Haro is also known as the Orca highway, the resident killer whale pods of the Salish Sea ply its waters on a daily basis.

First a quick geography and history lesson. There are 473 islands in the San Juan chain. The largest are Orcas, San Juan, Shaw, Blakely, Decatur and Lopez.

San Juan is infamous for being the site of the Pig War of 1859, a bloodless dispute between the respective English and American garrisons that camped on either side of the Island during the long border negotiations.  An American farmer, Lyman Cutlar, found a large black pig rooting through his garden so he took matters in hand and shot the poor beast. Its rightful owner, an irishman named Griffin, took umbrage at the hog killing.

 "It was eating my potatoes." Griffin replied, "It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig, the other man replied."

Things blew up as they often do in such contretemps and warships were eventually dispatched. Finally cooler heads prevailed and people realized the folly of fighting over swine and the Germans made the final call on the border lines, which had long been ambiguous. The United States would get everything east of the Haro Strait.

Now the infamous Pig War kerfuffle is celebrated by the locals every fourth of July with a barbecue.

I took this picture at the english cemetery on Young Hill, also known as  Mt. Young I believe. Six soldiers died and one civilian during the long standoff. Much alcohol was also drunk in the interim, with both sides actually getting quite convivial with each other and hoisting many a pint.

Some quite tame Colombian black tailed deer loitered around the peaceful resting place. I got within six feet of this one.

Saw a silver tipped fox at one point. Soon the huge trumpeter swans will be arriving.

I should probably take the time to shpiel for a moment, if I may.

I fancy myself a bit of an artist, and a risk taker, at least when it comes to photography.

Along with risk taking comes occasional failure, there is no two ways about it.

And I had some failures this week, taking pictures anyway, missed a golden opportunity. Happy with what I culled, but could have been ecstatic.

I assumed that certain equipment would work a certain way without actually testing it and it proved to be a major stumbling block. Not that I couldn't have improved my work, if I had my wits about me.

I decided to leave my massive Wimberley gimbal head and Induro tripod combo at home because it is so freaking heavy and to take my monopod instead. Nearly fatal error.

You see, it is nearly impossible to hold a neutral density filtered long exposure on a monopod at the intervals I was trying and keep things steady enough to get anything decent. Next time I will know. Reduce the time and open it up. Bring the tripod.

Anyway back to failure. As a long term artist, painter, sketcher, writer and photographer, not to mention art dealer, I have noticed that the hardest thing for a person is to self edit. We tend to fall in love with our work. A commercial art teacher in college named Jim Hulbert partially cured me of this, seeing my infatuation with a sketch he sent me home to bring him back 200 more thumbnail views of the same object by the next day. Good lesson for me in humility and self censorship.

You can nail it your first time and if you are lucky you do, but you can't expect what you try to work all the time. You take a shot, you are going to fail occasionally, unless of course, your work is so godawfully safe that it is not worth a look in the best of times.

You stop taking chances, you die as an artist. A good artist is rarely satisfied.

The other thing about photography in particular, at least the type I prefer, is that there are times, especially in nature, when you have to wait for things to come to you. It is not a canned environment like a studio.

Which sometimes means long periods of waiting, which makes it a solitary pursuit. Which is exactly what makes it so satisfying for some of us. We get to be in our own space.

Things didn't come to me this week. We saw orcas and eagles but they were just out of lens reach. I will hopefully be smarter and luckier next time.

I will offer a little story and mid amble and then touch on a few high points. Met a very nice and intelligent retired anesthesiologist on the flight in who is making his own cello, now a thirty year pursuit. We hope to see him again.

We landed at Sea Tac and for some reason our shuttle to Anacortes was delayed, for over an hour. The woman behind the desk said that a bus had broke down that morning. We came to find out that one had indeed. Tragically. When I saw the picture of the bus company insignia in the newspaper the next day my heart sunk. Had we dodged a bullet? We eventually boarded the ferry in a light drizzle.

Eagle eyed Leslie espied humpbacks diving in the channel. Camera out of reach.


It was a great week to unplug. We were free from data, from connections, the phone, the web. Lived on great food, laughs, clean air and beauty. And friendship.

Our first day we went to Lime Kiln Park and unfortunately just missed seemed the whale pods moving north. We did see some dahl porpoises cavorting around in the distance and had a marvelous time nonetheless.

The colors are so pretty right now, from the turkey tail mushrooms to the singular and distinct palette of the madrone trunk.

Big leaf maples were starting their fall splash and lovely fern forests and berry patches filled in the occasional gaps in the landscape.

We went to a benefit for the San Juan Nature Institute one evening, most of the attendees were scientists and educators like my gracious hosts and we met some interesting people in a birthday celebration for a legendary local naturalist, Eugene Kozloff, now 95. Kozloff wrote some of the major tomes and compendiums on Northwest flora and fauna.

Next day we hiked past the cemetery and up Young Hill, its summit providing us with pristine and storybook views of the Island. A bald eagle soared far overhead. A pileated woodpecker tapped a rudimental rhythm on the trunk of a tree to our left.

We saw a lot of different birds, belted kingfishers, robins, herons, grebes, all manner of gull and duck including the gorgeous harlequin.

The afternoon after our hike we drove over to Roche Harbor, once the largest lime kiln west of the Mississippi and rented kayaks.

Our biologist guide took us to some beautiful areas and taught us how to use the currents to our advantage.

Leslie and I did pretty well but did have an occasional dispute about the proper division of labor and the need for pulling one's weight.

So much fun and I managed to keep the camera dry. Easy four hour row.

We put a crab trap out and brought up seven or eight the last day, which happened to be the last day of the season. Threw the undersized and females back and dined liked royalty on the rest.

I could go on and on but will spare you for now. We hope to return one day and give it another go. So much to still learn and explore. Want to get up close and personal with my whale and eagle friends.

We can't thank our hosts and friends enough. What a wonderful week. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We needed that.

Thanks also to Tom for fixing the water line, to Ron Levine for his help and to Renee for watching Kermit while we were gone. You all are saving my butt and I appreciate it.


Helen Bauch McHargue said...

Looks wonderful! Great shot of Leslie at the end.

Anonymous said...

Great set of photos, Robert!!

Anonymous said...

MICHAEL and I were thinking of you two on the incredible blood moon.and solar eclipse...so glad that you had a great adventure with your friends up north ....I enjoyed seeing and reading about your wonderful trip .... Welcome home.... DN🔮

Anonymous said...

First solo picture of Leslie is delightful. Really nice.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for dropping in. This was us across from Friday harbor. Call next time⚓️

Anonymous said...

Amazing pics ..so beautiful !!

Thank you Robert,